Friday, January 11, 2008

Can Plants Decrease Your Utility Bills?

Yes! By up to 25%! But planning is everything. Plan out your plantings carefully and you'll definitley lower your utility bills... another way we can help save energy.

Read more in this article I found on NBC29's Home Place 12/17/07:

The Right Plants Can Yield a Break on Energy Bills

Updated: Nov 26, 2007 10:59 AM EST

By Celeste M. Smucker, Ph.D.

Wind and plunging winter temperatures are a challenge for homeowners who want to conserve energy. Fortunately, along with being a joy to behold and adding substantially to a home's value, well-planned landscaping can also help bring down your monthly power bills. This winter, as you dream about the beauty of next year's landscaping, think about incorporating elements that will be beautiful to look at while they also help you save substantially on what you pay for energy.

Studies show the right landscaping can reduce heating bills by as much as 25% while making an even bigger dent in summer cooling costs. While it is too late to help with this year's bills, if you start planning today, you may see some payoff as early as next winter. The biggest culprit when it comes to winter heat loss is the wind. Unless your home is very tightly insulated, you very likely experience drafts from time to time, due to cracks around a door or window or perhaps due to inadequate insulation around a light fixture or your attic access door. When the cold air comes in, it also forces warm air out, accounting for as much as half of your total heat loss.

Wind and cold also contribute to a process called conduction, whereby heat is lost due to temperature differences between inner and outer walls. The colder the outer walls, the greater will be the heat loss. Landscaping is important because it can actually modify the climate around your home (creating what's called a microclimate), thereby boosting your ability to stay warm inside.

For the biggest immediate impact on your heating bills, start by focusing on foundation plantings. Traditionally, the purpose of these plantings was to hide the home's foundation. Today, there is more emphasis on using them to complement the appearance of the home and make the entrance appear inviting. This means selecting a variety of different types of plants with differing colors and heights, rather than opting for one, long, undifferentiated hedge.

From an energy-saving perspective, foundation plantings are most effective when you allow at least five feet between them and the house. This creates a dead air space around your home that acts as insulation to reduce loss of heat from both conduction and air infiltration. The same principle applies in the summer, when the dead space helps save money on air conditioning. Allowing five feet of space between the plants and your house will also help prevent problems associated with moisture, such as mildew or fungal diseases. When choosing plants for this purpose, it is important to determine their approximate size at maturity, so that you know where to plant them in order to maintain the requisite five feet of space around your house as they mature.

A second way to use landscaping to save on energy bills is by planting windbreaks. The good news about windbreaks is that they can reduce wind velocity around your house by as much as 50%, which can translate into a 20-40% reduction in fuel consumption. The bad news is that if you are starting from scratch, it will be a while before you realize this kind of benefit.

The best windbreak has several rows of tall evergreens, usually conifers with needle-type leaves. Plant it at right angles to the prevailing wind, usually to the north or west of your house at a distance that is one to three times the height of the trees. A single row of trees can be effective, but several rows are more so and should be considered if space and your budget permit. Space them according to their expected size at maturity.

Windbreaks have other benefits as well as wind protection. For example, they can provide privacy for your family and a source of food and protection for birds and other wildlife. The trees can also help deflect sound. Since it may be several years before you realize the full benefit of your windbreak, you may want to incorporate walls or fencing into your plan to help hold off the wind until the trees are taller.

When selecting trees for your windbreak, the best choices are those that have branches that are low to the ground at maturity. Norway or Colorado blue spruce are possibilities, although they are relatively slow-growing, especially in the first several years. Arborvitae and cedar are also worth consideration, although a downside of arborvitae is that it is favored by deer. An excellent choice is Eastern Red Cedar, which is native to this area. It also provides red berries that are a favorite of winter birds, and the cardinals will thank you, since the bark is one of their favorite nesting materials.

Celeste Smucker is a writer, editor, and author of Sold on Me, Daily Inspiration for Real Estate Agents. She lives near Charlottesville.


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